Mark does not paint a pretty picture of the disciples. While Jesus is telling them that soon he would be put to death, they are busy arguing about who is the greatest. Surely they realize how terrible this was, as none of them will admit this to Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus addresses their behavior, instructing them using the example of a child, one who is dependent on others for care. “Whoever receives one child such as this in the my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me” (Mark 9:37). The lesson is clear; put aside your selfish ambition and care for the least of all. This is the kind of thinking that “the wicked” in the first reading utterly reject. Their selfishness inspires them to torture and kill “the just one,” foreshadowing the passion and death of the Lord. James addresses this jealousy and selfishness in his letter. When we are self-centered, we act as though we are the center of the universe, inevitably leading to conflict. When we exercise true wisdom, we acknowledge that we are just a speck in the universe. We make ourselves “the last of all and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). It is in giving ourselves to the least among us that we receive more than we could ever possess on our own, that we receive God.
What can you do to put others before yourself?READ MORE
It is not easy to be Christian. That is, it is difficult to be a true Christian. Isaiah gives us a foretaste of this when he writes: “I give my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard” (Isaiah 50:6). Isaiah suffers as Christ would, and like Christ he suffers willingly. For God’s sake, he stands up to those who oppose him without fighting back. James does not speak of suffering, but he tells us that faith demands action. “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). Dead. It is not enough just to believe. If our neighbor is in need and we do not respond, what good is our faith? The Gospel puts it all together. Jesus tells his disciples what it means to be a Christian. After telling them that he must suffer, die, and rise on the third day, he rebukes a protesting Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mark 8:33). Then he addresses his disciples and the assembled crowd, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).This, then, is what we need to do. This is what our faith demands.
How can you deny yourself in order to live as true Christian?READ MORE
Our god is a transformative God. In the readings today we hear God transform our neighbor, our thinking, or our world in a radical way. Isaiah prophesies about the transformations the Lord will bring: the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, and the mute will sing. The land will be transformed as well, with life-giving water flowing in barren lands. Saint James describes how God transforms our thinking. Judging others based on appearance or wealth is wrong, and in fact unchristian, as Christ repeatedly favored those who were poor in the eyes of the world. We encounter one of those people in the Gospel. Mark does not even note his name, but he is deaf and has a speech impediment. He is not even able to address Jesus. Nevertheless, asked by the crowd, Jesus heals the man. Mark gives us an idea of how much effort Jesus put into it, describing the process in detail and specifying that Jesus “groaned” when looking up to heaven. The crowd, though instructed to keep silent, cannot help but proclaim, “He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak,” invoking the words of Isaiah (Mark 7:37). Jesus has transformed the life of the deaf man as well as the lives of all who witnessed healing.
How has God transformed you life?READ MORE
Actions speak louder than words. From Moses to Saint James to Jesus in Saint Mark's Gospel, it's unanimous: it's not what you say that God values, but what you do. God in fact provided the model for us, as James points out. First, however, we hear the words of Moses, telling the people that observing God's commandments will show others how great God is. They will be impressed by seeing what you do. In the second reading James reminds us that God's word is a word of action. God created the world and everything in it by pronouncing the word. In the Gospel it is Jesus, the Word made flesh, who points out the difference between those who honor God's commandments and those who don't. The scribes and Pharisees, raising their eyebrows when the disciples fail to purify their hands, are called out as hypocrites. It is what is in the heart, what comes from within, that matters. It goes back to what James wrote, which basically sums up his entire letter: "Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves" (James 1:22).
Are you failing to act on what you believe? How are you deluding yourself?READ MORE
For the last three weeks we have heard Jesus explain that he is the Bread of Life. Hearing "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood" and "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink" was challenging, to say the least (John 6:53, 55). Now it is decision time. Can all his disciples accept this? No. Not just one, not just a few, but "many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him" (John 6:66). This is shocking. These are his disciples. These are people who have accepted and followed him through his teachings, healing, and miracles. This was not the response Joshua received when he gathered all the tribes of Israel and forced the people to take a stand. They all joined Joshua and his household in pledging to continue to serve the Lord. But such is not the case with Jesus. So then he addresses just the Twelve: "Do you also want to leave?" (John 6:67). Peter, speaking on behalf of all the apostles, answers: Where can we go? We do believe. You are the One. The Twelve have committed.
Are you ready to take a stand? Even if it means disagreeing with others, will you stand up for what you believe?READ MORE
We are invited to a banquet today. Will we come and eat? Wisdom invites us first. In Proverbs, Wisdom is a woman who has prepared a meal and calls on everyone to eat and drink. Naturally, since she is Wisdom, this food is knowledge and insight: "Forsake foolishness...advance in the way of understanding" (Proverbs 9:6). Similarly, Saint Paul invites the Christians of Ephesus to live wisely, not foolishly, so that they can "understand what is the will of the Lord" (Ephesians 5:17). He encourages them to sing psalms and play songs, inviting them to "give thanks...in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father" (Ephesians 5:20). The word Paul uses for "giving thanks" is eucharisteo, the word we use for the meal we celebrate, the meal Jesus invites us to partake in. Like Wisdom, Jesus does not command in today's Gospel. He invites. He invites everyone to share in his banquet. He is both host and meal. "The one who feeds on me will have life because of me" (John 6:57). We are all invited to consume him. We will then have life. Truly, we give thanks.
How does consuming Jesus in the Eucharist give you life?READ MORE
God gives us strength for our journeys. Elijah is a great example. As prophets are wont to do, Elijah as angered the authorities. He flees into the desert to escape the king, but is quickly overwhelmed and despairs, praying for death. The angel of the Lord cares for him, giving him food and water and prodding him to continue. Through God's generosity, Elijah is strengthened in body and strengthened in resolve, able to complete his pilgrimage. God 's most generous gift, of course, is Jesus, God's only Son, who speaks in similar terms in the Gospel: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever" (John 6:51). Jesus, the Bread of Life, gives us the ultimate gift—his life—strengthening us for our ultimate journey. Life is difficult, so we need that strength, as Saint Paul well knows. Paul implores the Ephesians to imitate God in the way we treat one another. Like Christ, we are encouraged to live lives of self-sacrifice.
What do you most need strength for your journey? Do you pray for strength in times of need?READ MORE
We hunger. Today’s readings point to that basic human need in all its meanings. In the first reading, the Israelites are so hungry that they tell Moses they’d rather have remained in slavery when at least they had food to eat. Seeing nothing but desert around them, they were convinced they would starve to death. But God provided food—manna and quail—that would sustain them on their journey. Moreover, God provided hope. In giving sustenance to them in their desperation, God restored hope to a people who needed a reason to go on. Last week we saw Jesus feed more than five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. But today we hear Jesus say, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27). Naturally, the crowd wants this magic food. Then Jesus reveals its source: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Now it is apparent that Jesus is not just addressing our physical hunger. He gives our lives sustenance, gives our lives hope, gives our lives meaning. In short, Jesus gives our lives life.
What gives your life meaning? In what ways is God the source?READ MORE